05/25/2005 11:00PM

Woodard has record streak


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At first glance, Native Bull and Quick Blend appeared to race to rather ordinary back-to-back victories Thursday at Churchill Downs.

If they only knew.

Not only did the triumphs give Joe Woodard the Churchill record for most consecutive wins for a trainer, nine, but the 28 claims submitted for Native Bull before the sixth race also broke what is believed to be the track record.

It was a historic day indeed for a 37-year-old Louisville native whose previous claim to fame was as a perennial leading trainer at River Downs.

"We really wanted this," said Woodard, who scratched two horses Wednesday with the belief that both Native Bull and Quick Blend rated strong chances. "This was really fun, especially now that it's over. I'm proud for the horses, and I'm extremely happy for Billy Hays. He has been very good to me."

Hays long has been Woodard's main client. Both Thursday winners ran under Hays's black and green silks, and all but one of the nine during Woodard's record streak were owned by Hays. The streak broke Pat Byrne's Churchill record of eight wins, set at the 1997 spring meet.

Both of the Woodard winners were favorites. Native Bull, ridden by Jesus Castanon, rallied to win an $8,000 claiming sprint by 1 1/4 lengths, returning $4.20. Thirty minutes later, Quick Blend ($5.20) drew off to an 11 3/4-length score under Angela Owens.

Native Bull, a 5-year-old gelding by Holy Bull, had been claimed April 16 at Keeneland for $25,000. In his lone start since then, he finished third in a $57,480 allowance race at Keeneland. Churchill's claims clerk, Tyler Picklesimer, said 31 claims were actually submitted Thursday for Native Bull, but three were voided. Owner-trainer Eddie Kenneally won the 28-way shake for Native Bull.

The previous Churchill record for most claims submitted at Churchill is believed to have been set May 23, 1996, when Bill Steiden and David Mullins won a 23-way shake for $25,000 for a 4-year-old filly named Carson Creek. There are no definitive records in the category.

Quick Blend was claimed for $10,000 following his Thursday victory. Steve Fugitte, with Richard Kohnhorst as trainer, won an eight-way shake for the 3-year-old colt.

Woodard was scheduled to run one horse Friday at Churchill, and none Saturday. His record streak, which began May 13, applies to Churchill only, as he has sent out several losing starters at River during that span.

Woodard conceded that a certain degree of luck is involved in attaining the kind of record he set Thursday. In fact, in Native Bull's victory, the runner-up, Homem Ra, was left badly at the start, costing him perhaps five or more lengths.

"Better him than me," Woodard said with a smile. "That's what I mean about being a little lucky."

The North American record for consecutive training wins is 14, set by Frank Passero Jr. at the 1996 Gulfstream Park meet.

All hands on deck at training time

The special training arrangements that have been temporarily instituted for quarantined horses at Churchill has led to some unusual situations, to say the least.

The three trainers with sizable stables operating under the quarantine restrictions - Steve Asmussen, Paul McGee, and Ronny Werner - have had to hire a substantial number of temporary employees in order to get all their horses trained within the 90-minute window that Churchill has made available to them. What normally is accomplished in four hours of training is now compressed into a far shorter time span, requiring more hands to be available.

Werner has tried to make the best of it, and he is even getting quality family time out of the experience. His wife, Cindy, and two teenage sons are helping out in Barn 6, marking the first time in some 17 years that Cindy has worked on the backstretch.

Besides the trainers and their expanded staffs, the extra training also is requiring overtime from other racetrack employees, including track-maintenance staff, Equibase clockers, an ambulance crew, and an outrider. The extra training is being conducted at various times, depending on when live racing is held.

The extra training stems from the equine herpes virus outbreak that was announced by Churchill May 18. There is no definite timetable on the end to the quarantine restrictions, although Churchill has said they could end as soon as next Friday, June 3.

Rapid Proof facing solid rivals

Rapid Proof may be the favorite Monday in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap, having validated his 31-1 upset in Grade 2 the Mervin Muniz in March by winning the April 9 Connally BC at Sam Houston with an identical Beyer Speed Figure of 104.

But Rapid Proof, who will try to give trainer Hal Wiggins his fourth victory in the Louisville, will be facing a solid and consistent group, including Silverfoot, a distinctive gray who has won both his starts over the Churchill turf course.

Rapid Proof, with 119 pounds, will be the starting highweight in the Louisville, a 1 3/8-mile turf race. Other probable starters include Senor Swinger, 118; Silverfoot, 117; Epicentre, 116; Quest Star, 116; and Rochester, 115.

Rochester, winless since 2003, has inched to the threshold of the $1 million earnings mark. A 9-year-old gelding, he will enter with a career bankroll of $994,437 for breeder-owner Augustin Stable and trainer Jonathan Sheppard.

* Mondays normally are dark here, so to make up for the missed dark day, there will be no racing here Wednesday, June 1.